Franklin Delano Roosevelt served 12 years in the White House, from 1933 to 1945. Roosevelt led the nation during tumultuous times. When he took office, the Great Depression had caused economic havoc; then, World War II embroiled America in an intense battle against fascism. All the while, Roosevelt transformed the relationship between the government and its people. During his first inaugural address to the nation, Roosevelt explained he would use his broad powers to fight the Depression as if it were a war. He envisioned the president’s role to include protecting the national economy. By his death in 1945, Roosevelt had expanded this vision to include governmental responsibility for providing economic security, decent housing, medical care and social security.
The Great Depression caused people to fear economic insecurity. Roosevelt often blamed the problems on the excesses of the 1920s, an age of massive stock speculation. To prevent people from suffering under a high unemployment rate was an economic right, proclaimed Roosevelt. The government had a responsibility for providing jobs that provided people with enough money to eat and clothe themselves. Farmers, those who produce the food for consumption, had a right to a fair price for their goods. Meanwhile, the government should create an economic environment where businesses could not cheat to gain an edge over others. The government, to this end, should prevent monopolies, corporations that dominate an industry, to ensure an open and fair economic marketplace.
Many people were homeless during the Great Depression. Images of hobos sleeping in train cars and families on the road to California to escape the dusty drought in Oklahoma remain fixed in the minds of Americans. To combat these conditions, Roosevelt declared the ownership of a decent home the prerogative of every American.
Roosevelt expanded the rights of Americans to include access to adequate medical care. This privilege would provide citizens a higher quality of life. During the 1960s, fellow Democrat, President Lyndon Johnson, through his Great Society initiatives, persuaded Congress to provide government health care for seniors and poor, helping complete what Roosevelt began.
The presence of large numbers of impoverished older citizens was an issue challengers in the Democratic Party posed to Roosevelt during elections. Americans had a right, Roosevelt declared in 1944, to certain protections when they are most weak and vulnerable. The elderly deserved economic protection. In addition, those who cannot work because of illness or an accident had a right to governmental assistance. Last, workers, who are unemployed, needed a system to provide an income until they find another job. These rights became the backbones of the federal Social Security and unemployment insurance programs.
- American Rhetoric: Franklin Delano Roosevelt First Inaugural Address
- History of American Political Thought; Bryan-Paul Frost and Jeffrey Sikkenga
- National Perspectives on Housing Rights; Scott Leckie
- Bringing Human Rights Home: Portraits of the Movement; Cynthia Soohoo, Catherine Albisa and Martha F. Davis
- Encyclopedia of Federal Agencies and Commissions; Kathleen Hill and Gerald N. Hill
- Social Security Administration: The Townsend Plan Movement
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